Forty years of teaching

By: Robert Guttersohn | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published November 7, 2012

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Rose Harrison remembers Halloweens in the early 1980s, when her Wyandot Middle School students were dancing to Michael Jackson’s latest hit “Thriller.”

This Halloween, her students are dancing to the Korean rap song “Gangnam Style,” the latest in the long list of pop songs that Harrison has seen captivate her middle-school students before fading with time throughout her 40 years of teaching.

And like pop music, Harrison has seen education requirements and the perception of teachers change dramatically throughout four decades. Despite those factors, plus a long list of accolades Harrison has under her belt, she still isn’t ready to step away from the profession because she isn’t done having fun.

“You stop doing things when you stop having fun, and I haven’t stopped having fun yet,” she said. “It’s so rewarding to see kids come in and smile and laugh.”

Harrison is the longest-tenured teacher at Wyandot and is in the top  five of the entire Chippewa Valley Schools district, said Darleen Sims, Wyandot’s principal. The milestone hasn’t gone unnoticed by the school. Earlier this year, they gave Harrison her own parking spot next to the entrance closest to her classroom.

“We need veteran teachers,” said Sims. She said, while other teachers tend to burn out from the demands of the classroom, Harrison keeps up with technological changes and educational trends that come and go. While doing so, she has served as chairwoman of the Language Arts Department and head of the English curriculum for the entire district.

Harrison began teaching in 1972 and has been at Wyandot Middle School since 1974, the year the school was built, before standardized tests dominated what teachers taught in class.

“There were tests at the beginning,” she said. “Then, we had it to the point where it was ridiculous. Then, we went to there being no tests at all because there are some students that, I don’t care what you do, tests scare them to death, and they do not perform well at all.”

Yet throughout that, she maintains that the quality of teachers around her has stayed the same. Her sixth-grade students, eager to answer questions about Harrison, are testaments to her own quality. They provided several adjectives to describe Harrison: fun, really funny, kind, caring, thoughtful, energetic and goofy.

Beyond the endearing qualities, the students also value her for the educational aspects she brings to the classroom. Daniella Grainger, 11, said Harrison has taught them to be more descriptive in their writing.

“She makes sure we have fun while we’re learning,” Grainger said.

“Ms. Harrison will always be my favorite teacher,” said Quantraz Sawyer, 12.

“I swear I didn’t bribe them” Harrison joked about their accolades.

She has taught every part of the middle-school spectrum but admits that she enjoys teaching sixth-grade the most. Those students are old enough to comprehend tough subjects while still innocent enough to be children, she said. And they still love to dance.

“We’ve got a lot of good dancers in here,” Harrison said.

Throughout the years, there have been plenty of fun times inside her classroom, but the moment she treasures most is that instant when students understand the subject she is teaching — the “aha moments,” as she calls them. And after 40 years, she’s seen hundreds of those moments. She tried doing the math, but there have just been too many students to count.

“You figure 40 years of students, five or six classes a year,” she calculates.

Naturally, her next goal is making it to 50 years of those moments.

“I’m in for the long haul,” Harrison said, as if 40 years alone doesn’t meet that benchmark.